Tangata Group Receives International Grant

2018 Education Exchange Feature

This article was originally published on the the Syracuse Education Exchange, read more here.

Tangata Group, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to the proposition that disability rights are human rights and founded by two School of Education graduates, has received a $200,000 grant through the United Kingdom’s Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning (DRILL) to further its work on deaf access to justice in Northern Ireland. The DRILL grant comes from the world’s first major research program led by people with disabilities and is financed with money from the United Kingdom’s National Lottery.

In Tangata Group’s first year, founders Brent Elder G’16 and Michael Schwartz G’06 made two research trips to Northern Ireland to start work on deaf access to that justice system. Their initial funding came from the School of Education’s Joan N. Burstyn Endowed Fund for Collaborative Research and the Syracuse University Small Scale Funds Award. Elder and Schwartz founded Tangata Group to provide technical assistance to international signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). They announced Tangata Group’s formation in December 2016, on the 10th anniversary of the CRPD treaty, which more than 165 nations have ratified.

“Tangata” (pronounced “Tan-jah-tah”) “roughly translates to ‘the essence of being human’ in the Maori language,” says Elder. “The term is meant to highlight the humanity of people with disabilities and to refocus disability as a natural part of the human condition,” he adds.

The UN accreditation that Tangata Group received in June 2017 will allow the NGO to participate in the annual United Nations Conference of State Parties on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). “Accreditation from the United Nations means we can help shape how the UNCRPD is implemented around the world,” says Schwartz.

Schwartz, a deaf lawyer, is based in Syracuse, where he is an associate professor of law and has been director of the Disability Rights Clinic in the Office of Clinical Legal Education at the SU College of Law. He received a J.D. from New York University School of Law in 1981 and a Ph.D. in education with a concentration in disability studies. Elder is an assistant professor in the Interdisciplinary and Inclusive Education Department at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey. A special education teacher at a public elementary school in California from 2004 to 2012, he studied and taught in the SOE from 2012 to 2016, when he received a Ph.D. in special education. His disability studies research focuses on the intersections of disability, poverty, and education globally, and in under-resourced schools in the United States.

Tangata Group’s goals for 2018 include researching the sustainability of Elder’s Fulbright project dissertation research on inclusive education in western Kenya. It will work with flmmakers in the UK and the BBC to start a documentary about deafness around the world and will work with SU’s College of Law to establish a faculty-student exchange program between the college and a law school in a Vietnamese university. Tangata Group hopes to acquire consultative status at the United Nations to further its involvement in UNCRPD implementation.

Schwartz; Elder; and board members Janet Lord, a senior fellow at the Harvard Law School Project on Disability; and Judith Heumann, Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the U.S. Department of State, publish their work on Tangata Group’s blog at www.tangatagroup.org/blog. Explaining the choice of Tangata for the group’s name, Elder says his research into scholars from New Zealand raised his consciousness of the Maori people. “Respect for the Maori people and the indigenous and decolonizing research that has come from the Maori community led us to look into Maori words to represent our values,” he says. He and Schwartz asked the Maori Language Commission for permission to use “Tangata” before adopting it.